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Maharashtra Showcases India's First Ideal Digital Village, Proving A Vital Point

15 Apr, 2017
Maharashtra To Have India First Ideal Digital Village

The new Government’s push towards achieving a digital India might take some time, for a Pan India result, but that isn’t the case when it comes to its Digital Villages initiative.

Maharashtra’s Harisal village, once known for its poor Human Development Index ratings, is receiving the push it needs from the Government machinery as well as one of the world’s most successful technology companies – Microsoft.

Microsoft adopted this village as a bid to make it India’s first digital village. Not only has it provided the necessary capital, resources and tie ups for the village, but it has supported it and partnered so well with the local and state civil servants, that the project is poised to receive a national award on public services.

Harisal, which is in Amravati district of Maharashtra, has one of the highest amounts of people suffering from malnutrition. It also ranks amongst the lowest villages according to the Human Development Index especially in the parameters of education, employment and income levels. This is especially why the village was chosen and the State Government has reiterated time-and-again that if the project is successful here, then places which are far ahead of Harisal, would take lesser time to transform.

The civil servants primarily concentrated on data that they received and took actions accordingly. They made it clear while addressing the media, that increasing access to Fair Price Shops (the usually prescribed “fix”) would not necessarily deal with the issues the villagers were facing and that certainly did not improve the data on malnourishment.

On the contrary, the focus was primarily given on providing education, employment and health benefits, the issues that were pulling them back in the first place.

Details on what services were provided and how the public-private partnership enable the facilitation of a successful project are given below:

  • To declare Harisal a digital village, the first thing that was required and had to be provided was access to the internet.
    Microsoft took the baton in providing the said village and others surrounding it, with free unlimited access to the internet. This was achieved through the usage of the spectrum between two TV channels, also known as ‘white space’ to synergize connectivity and data for the villages in question.
  • The company deputed officials, basically project management experts, who were constantly in contact with the officials of the Maharashtra Government to innovate and chart out new solutions that could be provided through technology for the village.
    The Assistant Chief Secretary for the Chief Minister, Praveen Pardeshi stated, ”Microsoft decided to partner us in digitally connecting the village. Our goal was to make the villagers self reliant, increase employment, boost their incomes, and provide medical services”.
  • The Dayalbaugh Educational Institute partnered with the project to provide women with the necessary knowledge on the art of weaving. This was done primarily because Amravati is a textile hub, however weavers from West Bengal accounted for the majority of produce as the locals were unaware of the trade of weaving.
    The trends have been so good that in two years, women from Harisal have begun getting jobs in Amravati.
  • Despite having expertise in making products such as mats, bowls, baskets and vases of bamboo, the villagers did not get the right price as most of the middlemen took a huge chunk of the profits. Now, access to the internet and WiFi has enabled them to sell their products at the right price.
  • For the first time in a long while, students did not drop out of school before 10th or 12th grade. This is primarily because an ultra-modern and efficient e-classroom was built by the state government with assistance from Hewlett Packard.
    The medium of teaching remained the local language, with short films and movies shown on the TV, accounting for case studies rather than written text.
  • The state tied up with Dr. B Venkateshwara Rao Eye Care Centre who set up a mobile unit in Harisal.
    To overcome the lack of basic health-care facilities, the state tied up with Amravati Super-Speciality Hospital and JJ Hospital to provide tele-medicine.
    Similarly, L V Prasad Eye Institute (LVPEI) set up a mobile unit in Harisal to treat ailments related to the eyes and cataracts.
    All this helped avert the arduous travel of 120 km to Amravati.
  • Solar power panels were installed to provide power, whereas Information and Communication Technology classes were provided for education on digital assistance and knowledge in soil productivity assessment, crop productivity services and many more innovative techniques.

Apart from all these initiatives, the Government is also planning to establish a CDAC in the village to provide mobile units and satellite communication to establish contact with specialist doctors.

Close to 54 more villages around Harisal are poised to benefit from this tie up and adoption.

It will probably be the understatement of 2017 to say, that the village has hence seen much progress – from people having no phones, to villagers now communicating on Skype is the jump in accessibility that best showcases (and markets) the government’s digital village initiative.

More power to such initiatives, we say!